For a great many years now, we’ve had it rammed into us from car salesmen and the media that it simply doesn’t get any better than having leather seats in your car. Leather is often seen as a defining factor as to whether or not other people think your car is nice. The smell of opulence, the feel… there’s just something about animal skin which appeals to our inner caveman. Leather good.
But is leather the best material we use on car seats? Well to be honest, they don’t make a whole lot of sense in the majority of cars – and here’s why.
1. They’re hot as hell in summer
By far our biggest beef (sorry, we had to say it) with leather here in Australia is how damn hot it gets during the summer months. Hopping into a car with leather seats after it has been sitting in the sun for an hour or so is absolutely murderous – and we’re not just saying that.
The interior of a car left in full sun can easily crack 70ºC (or around 160ºF), and unlike cloth, leather – and in particular black leather – is excellent at absorbing heat. If you’re wearing shorts, and let’s face it, you will be in summer, easing down into a burning leather seat is going to be downright uncomfortable at best, and has the potential to give you a severe burn at the worst.
Manufacturers attempt to combat this by offering seat cooling options which cycles air through the seat in order to cool it down, but isn’t this like offering a solution to a problem which shouldn’t exist in the first place? Plus the seat cooling system won’t work properly until the air inside the car cabin has cooled down first. So prepare to have your arse fried, and arrive at many a destination with sweat marks down the back of your shirt and on your pants.
2. They’re cold as ice in winter
In the same way that leather seats are murderously hot in summer, they’re also cold as ice in the winter – and there is nothing luxurious about a having a numb bum. At least you still have autumn and spring to enjoy them, right?
Just like the seat cooling options used to keep the seat comfortable in the summer, manufacturers also offer heated seat options to help keep you comfortable in the winter – but again, why not go for cloth seats and kill two birds with one much cheaper stone?
3. It doesn’t ‘beathe’ like cloth can
Have you ever sat down on a leather sofa in the summer, only to find that you’re body starts to overheat within 5 – 10 minutes, forcing you to either move around or get up to prevent yourself from becoming sweaty? That’s because when you put skin on skin, there simply isn’t any way for your perspiration to evaporate into the air around you – and boy is it uncomfortable.
To get around this, many car manufactures opt to use ‘perforated leather’ – which essentially means the parts of the seats which you come into contact with will have thousands of tiny holes in them. These little holes provide ventilation and a natural cooling effect, but it also means that dirt and small food particles can make their way in there and prove difficult to remove.
Perforated leather also demands a more rigerous maintenance schedule in order to keep it looking at at its best.
4. That leather smell is actually just chemicals
Most people absolutely love the smell of a brand new leather interior, but did you know that what you’re smelling isn’t actually what leather smells like? In reality, tanned animal hides (i.e. new leathers) actually smell pretty darn awful, so leather goods are soaked in perfumes and chemicals in order to achieve a much more pleasant odour.
5. Leather is high maintenance
Leather is not just high class, it is also high maintenance. While leather might be better at preventing stains, to keep it looking great you’ll need to have it cleaned and conditioned with specialist leather care products every few months. If you don’t clean and treat the leather on a regular basis, it’ll eventually will show signs of wear due to the sweat, dust, and dirt that seep into its pores. After a longer period of time, it’ll then begin to harden and perhaps start cracking.
Of course, cloth seats still require some maintenance, including periodic vacuuming, steam cleaning and perhaps Scotchgarding every few years. But in general leather owners will tell you that their seats need a lot more TLC.
6. You’re not always getting real leather
In the never ending quest to cut costs, car manufacturers are using fake man-made leathers (or ‘pleather’) more liberally, which is made from polyurthane. And we’re not just talking about cars on the cheaper end of the spectrum.
The likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi increasingly rely on fake leather in their more affordable models, and many mainstream manufacturers sell cars with a blend of genuine leather and synthetic vinyl seats – and most are deliberately ambiguous when describing the products they’re using.
7. You’ll pay more for the priveledge
Leather is always going to cost you more than cloth – but it’s just a matter of how much more. That will depend largely on the quality of the leather, which can range from ‘fake’ (see above) to brushed to top-grain—or in some high-end vehicles, the luxuriously soft Nappa leather.
So when you decide to opt for leather seats on your next new car purchase, you’d better find out what you’re actually paying for. Is it real leather? What about the backs of the seats, the sides, and the headrests?
But perhaps there is tiny bit of good news for leather interior car owners here – and that is the extra money you paid for your leather interior should mean the resale value of your car will be a little bit higher than cloth equipped models of the same age and condition. But other factors come into play here, like the fact that most used car buyers simply want a reliable vehicle at a low price. So you’re rolling the dice.
So how about you – are you willing to put up with all the negatives above in order to have a leather interior in your car? Let us know in the comments below.